Paris: Italo Bettiol, the creator of "Chapi Chapo", a stop-motion animated series popular in the 1970s, died Wednesday at the age of 96 at his home in southern France, a family friend said.

The Italian-born director "died peacefully", according to Eric Valin, a collaborator and friend of the family quoted in a statement released by Magic, the company that represents the rights to "Chapi Chapo".

The main characters were a girl in red named Chapi and a boy in blue named Chapo. Both wore oversized hats -- or "chapeaux" in French -- making their names a play on words.

Premiering on October 16, 1974 on French public television, each five-minute episode featured the duo playing with magical cubes.

The show was "broadcast worldwide, including in the United States on the Nickelodeon programme Pinwheel", the statement said.

A specialist in stop-motion animation -- which consists of capturing the movements of puppets frame by frame in front of a camera -- Bettiol originally intended to become a painter.

The Trieste native left Italy for France in 1947 with his colleague Stefano Lonati -- who later also directed several "Chapi Chapo" episodes.

After Bettiol finally settled on animated films, the duo founded the Belokapi company in 1968, producing numerous children's television shows including "L'ile aux enfants" and "Pepin la Bulle".

"A tireless inventor, now retired, Italo Bettiol continued to tinker with extraordinary machines in his workshop in Aniane, near Montpellier," the statement said.